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Scotsman Dispute still deadlocked seven months on

9 May 2001 - EPUK

The start of May saw the beginning of the seventh month of The Scotsman Publications Ltd (TSPL) copyright dispute. Five pay offers, four contracts and four rounds of talks have failed to bring the dispute to a close, despite repeated efforts by SNAP, the Scottish Newspapers’ Association of Photographers, and the National Union of Journalists.

With TSPL Editorial Director John McGurk insisting that he is not going to move on the issue of copyright, it is thought unlikely that talks will resume in the immediate future. The fourth contract, issued last month after talks between the NUJ and SNAP, represented limited movement on behalf of TSPL, with the reinstatement of an extra payment for a shift lasting more than eight hours, a second, higher, band of reproduction payments, and the rewording of two indemnity clauses.

However, TSPL refused to move on the abolition of reproduction payments in the commissioning title, the wording of the copyright clause, and the automatic right of TSPL to syndicate the freelances work. As a result, neither SNAP nor the NUJ could endorse the fourth contract until changes were made in these areas.

However, some freelances felt that a paragraph in the covering letter to the fourth contract represented a clear and deliberate attempt by John McGurk to portray the contract as one endorsed by the NUJ to trick NUJ members into signing it. The paragraph read: “This contract has been fully discussed with Paul Holleran, the Scottish Organiser of the NUJ, and he has informed me that it is his belief that many photographers are now in a position to sign the document.”

Snap also understands that several TSPL picture editors have misrepresented the NUJ’s position by telling freelances that the NUJ have agreed to the contract. SNAP understands these statements are now being considered at the highest level within the NUJ. In the meantime, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News have found themselves increasingly isolated by the rest of the Scottish and national press over their handling of the copyright contract. At least two Scottish titles are now refusing to co-operate with the TSPL picture desks in supplying pictures from their own archives, and one other picture editor is refusing to give any work to any freelance who has signed the TSPL contract.

The creation of three new TSPL staff posts also seems to have run into difficulties with at least one newly appointed staff photographer having to use his own car and his own (film) cameras due to budget shortages. Having been one of the first newspaper groups to use digital technology, TSPL are now thought to be the only national newspaper group still using film. It also comes at a time when both the Edinburgh and Glasgow offices have sold off their film processing machines, leaving their staff photographers to process at high-street labs.

In the meantime, the Edinburgh Evening News is now reduced to using work-experience students to fill its pages. SNAP understand that these students, most of whom have never worked for a newspaper before, are being employed on shift, but are only being paid when their work appears in the newspaper. The move is thought to have brought a considerable cost saving to the picture desk (at a time when budgets throughout the three main TSPL titles are being cut by as much as 33%), but with a noticeable drop in the quality of the pictures.

SNAP and the NUJ are currently working together in putting together a number of significant legal test cases against TSPL arising from this dispute. An early attempt by TSPL’s solicitors to block the ‘archive freeze’ would have appeared to have failed following advice from the NUJ’s legal team. Had this test case succeeded, it may have meant that by submitting their work to newspapers’ archives, they would have effectively lost control over the control of their images.

The NUJ hardship fund has also been greatly welcomed by SNAP freelances, and donations from the other NUJ branches and collections have been greatly appreciated by the freelances who had work cancelled at short notice by TSPL.

In the meantime, it would appear that the copyright dispute will continue to damage the reputation and integrity of The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, and the Edinburgh Evening News. As one senior picture desk employee put it: “If any of the picture desks had managed to destroy long-standing relationships with pretty much all our freelances in a matter of weeks, we would get the sack. But when senior management do it, they’ll probably get promoted.”

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